Friday, May 26, 2017

Carried Away with MarTech (conference recap)

Martech is the blending of marketing and technology, and today careers with job titles such as Chief Marketing Technologist are rapidly proliferating. There is also a highly focused business conference called MarTech, now in its 4th year, for its practitioners. As a Social Media Strategist working in marketing, a job that would not even be possible without technology, I decided to attend the conference to learn more.

Described by the planners as the “international conference series for senior-level, hybrid professionals who are both marketing- and tech-savvy: marketing technologists, creative technologists, growth hackers, data scientists, and digital strategists.” MarTech is held each Spring in San Francisco. When I heard about it, I signed right up, put on my best vintage power jacket, and marched myself downtown to attend. With a notebook and a pen, no less, because what’s more tech than the rejection of tech? I digress….

What I learned at MarTech is that the tech arena moves at an even faster pace than I was aware. That eMBA that I earned back in 2001 (which only existed for 3 years) was pretty revolutionary at the time, but any laurels I may have been resting on have long since decomposed. We all have to work to keep up in this ever-changing sphere, especially as a Gen Xers who refuse to be left behind. ESPECIALLY as a woman. Something happened during one of the sessions, where a speaker responded to an audience question in the negative, admitting she didn’t know the technology in question. This horrified me, since even I had read blog posts on this particular technology. She was a woman of about my age, and up to that point I had admired her and decided that if she could do it, so could I. Then the bomb dropped, and I, along with those seated on either side of me, just shook my head. As terrible as I felt for her, I was relieved it wasn’t me. I filed it and kept going, which is the first rule of business.

Fortunately, that was the only cringe-worthy moment, and most of the other moments were quite grand, such as the opening party, “The Stackies". This is an award ceremony for graphics describing a  firm’s "marketing stack" which is the tech they use and what it does for their marketing campaigns. I had examined and (I think) intelligently processed entries from previous years that were posted online; this years’ winners were firms that nobody in their right mind would even try to compete with. Like Microsoft. Still, if not at every level, I completely grasped the broad theory of each entry and enjoyed seeing the entries and the winners. Plus, there were artisan donuts!

The next day, I attended several of the conference sessions - at the reduced “Expo Pass” rate, which meant I had access only to those sessions sponsored by vendors. The sessions described their offerings, yet there was no sense of lesser content. These were all remarkably bright people and relevant topics, such as new marketing uses for IBM’s Watson (which was a true highlight), as well as a talk by the lead for digital at subculture favorite, Dr. Martens Boots. Though these were sponsored talks, they were far from advertisements, and offered really fascinating case studies and explanations of some high-level architecture and tools. I realized that just because I do not currently work with clients who could benefit from 95% of it, this time next year or perhaps the next, that percentage could be different. It was quite a relief to observe that I am closer to understanding much of what I was hearing, and that the questions I had were of a specific nature rather than general or vague. Strange waters, these, but I was afloat. Not sailing the luxury yacht, as many in attendance were, but afloat nevertheless. So glad I love to swim!

Finally, I made a point of schmoozing – OK, networking - with everyone at the expo hall. There were over 100 vendors, and I spoke with well over half of them, and not just with the goal of collecting free conference swag. I introduced myself as a social strategist for small business, and asked what their apps / tools did and how they benefit small business. Many, in fact, were tools designed for enterprise-level business, but several tools might apply to my own clients now or in the near future. I was proud that I was able to ask intelligent follow-up questions, and understand the demos I was shown. And of course, I am delighted with all the free swag ;)

If you’ve attended a conference lately, you will know the procedure: as you are chatting with a vendor, they scan the code on your conference badge before handing over the cow-shaped logo stress squeezie or hilighter pen or keychain, which means that in addition to the swag you cart away, you will also receive emails galore. The week after MarTech, this was in my inbox: Hello Carrie, Thanks for stopping by our booth last week at MarTech SF! After seeing all the different technologies you might be thinking, "What tool is missing from my tech stack?"  and the email went on to suggest that their tool is what I was missing. But what I thought was actually more like “wait, is there a glossary attached to this email?" (thanks, Google.)

For the case studies alone, I am thrilled I attended. Because most of the offerings are beyond the needs of my own business, or that of my clients currently, I can’t say for sure whether I will attend next year, but I did step up my reading of tech blogs and subscribed to a couple of new tech podcasts. Rather than leaving feeling overwhelmed, I left feeling even more determined and on the right track. Lifelong learning is more than a goal, it increases my worth and the value to my clients. Supposedly it will also stave off Alsheimers and, as my grandmother used to say, “keep me out of the pool hall”.  Thank you, MarTech! 

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